A world made better for women is a world made better for all

400 Zontians from six nations and territories gather in Manila
for the 22nd Zonta International District 17 Conference

At a glance

  • ‘When you educate and capacitate a woman, you achieve the double dividend of capacitating not only herself, but also her children, her family, and her whole community.’

ALL FOR WOMEN Zontians of Zonta International District 17, from left: Beging Soriano, Susan Lim, Dandy Gomez, Baby Perez Sison, Olivia Aguinaldo Ferry, Lia Bautista, Rita Dy, and Tess Rayos del Sol

“A better world for women is a better world,” declared Olivia Aguinaldo-Ferry, past international president of Zonta International, and the first Filipino to make it to that post. “When you educate and capacitate a woman, you achieve the double dividend of capacitating not only herself, but also her children, her family, and her whole community.” 

Olivia or Livie, as her friends and her fellow Zontians call her, remains an active voice in addressing women empowerment issues at Zonta, especially now that “the international organization of individuals who work together to build a better world for women and girls,” as she describes ZI, is holding the 22nd Zonta International District 17 Conference in Manila. 

Sto Nino of My Heart by Marge Organo, 54.5 x 29.2 x 13.5 cm, optical glasscanvas

To be held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at the Grand Hyatt Manila, the conference expects to gather 400 Zontians from the six countries and territories that comprise District 17 (D17), namely, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.  

At a recent lunch at the Pool House at the Grand Hyatt Manila to announce the upcoming conference, ZI D17 governor Lia Bautista was happy to share that of the 400 expected participants many, with hope, would be first timers. 

The last time the Philippines hosted such a conference was in 2017 and the organizing team, led by its chair Baby Perez-Sison, as well as special events chair Mita Rufino, conference vice chair Dandy Gomez, finance chair Susan Lim, ways and means chair Beging Soriano, and Zonta Club Fort Santiago president Tess Rayos del Sol, is leaving no stone unturned to line up activities that will fire up the Zonta spirit in all the attendees at the three-day district conference.

Zonta was founded in 1919 in Buffalo, New York. As its current international president Ute Scholz describes it, it is “a strong, committed community working together to fight for gender equality at the local and global levels.”  It is, as of writing, a global community of more than 26,000 women and men in more than 1,100 Zonta clubs in 62 countries, with such noble programs as the Amelia Heart Fellowship, the Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship, and the Women in STEM Scholarship. 


There are programs aimed at ending child marriage, supporting victims of domestic violence, providing emergency aid, such as for the political refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine, and addressing climate change, which ZI recognizes as a human rights issue. There are also programs funding basic necessities, such as basic water, sanitation, and hygiene services in places like Madagascar, and health care for adolescents in places like Peru. 

Morph by Wencyl Mallari, 3x4 ft, medium oil on canvas

To expand its reach, apart from setting up Zonta clubs in towns, cities, and countries, where it doesn’t exist yet, ZI also provides generous funding to the tune of millions of dollars on a regular basis to institutions like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UNICEF. 

D17 is only a drop in the ocean of Zonta International, but in it, the spirit is strong, engaged as it is with such activities to make life better not only for women but for all as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and tree-planting programs, cleanup drives, awareness campaigns, the provision of psychological therapy and health care services, medical missions, livelihood and leadership training, entrepreneurship development, career orientation for the youth, scholarships and mentorships, financial assistance, donation drives, and gift-giving. 

It doesn’t stop there. “Zonta’s vision will not be achieved by monetary donations alone,” explained Rita Dy, ZI District 17’s PR and communications chair. “At the local, national, and regional levels, Zonta clubs and individual Zontians are advocating for laws and policies that ensure gender equality and help every woman and girl realize her full potential.”   

The district conference, on top of offering “a richer, more engaging, and more instructive business program,” through which members and partners can share ideas, insights, best practices, inspiring experiences, and applicable materials with each other, is also chockful of activities to provide Zontians with opportunities for fun, entertainment, friendship, and fellowship. 

Lined up are ticketed events like the Recognition Night, Love the Philippines-themed lunch, and a ball for which the dress code is “Bridgerton.” Post conference recreation has also been planned, with options like a trip to Pico de Loro and the El Nido Resorts on Miniloc Island in Palawan available for interested Zontians.

There will be a lot of shopping too, as Baby Perez-Sison pointed out, citing the “Marketplace,” which will feature 50 carefully handpicked concessionaires with offerings that highlight Philippine culture, such as Jewelmer with its irresistible cache of South Sea pearls.

Among the conference highlights is “Her Story in Color: Celebrating the Diversity and Creativity of Women,” which opens ahead of the conference on Sept. 26 on the second floor of the Grand Hyatt Manila, showcasing the masterworks of Filipina artists like master painter Lydia Velasco and glass sculptor Marge Organo. The exhibition, put together by Mita Rufino, who worked closely with ManilArt and the National Art Fair curator Danny Rayos del Sol and NCCA National Committee on Art Gallery head Tess Rayos del Sol, will feature the works of some 40 women artists. Proceeds will go to the Zonta Foundation for Women Endowment Fund, particularly earmarked for marginalized and abused women.

During the conference, the Zontians will also go about choosing their next biennium leaders, a decision to be guided by the full knowledge that great changes, good and bad, and upheavals are up ahead. 

It seems scary when we think of the world a-changing, but not to worry, as long as we’re doing our best to make the world change for the better, even just for women. To repeat what Livie has been saying, “a better world for women is a better world.”